Do you remember your 8th birthday? Or 10th, 14th, 16th? Do you remember what you were thinking about, who your friends were, what was important in your life at those times?
Maggie, Stephonjia and Suzanne do. They are the same age as the Minnesota Women’s Press and over the years, on this shared birthday, we interviewed these young dancers, gymnasts and dreamers about what was important to them at different stages and ages. Our last conversation was when the girls were 17, on the brink of college, careers and womanhood. Now they are 25, and we have a lot of catching up to do.
When Maggie Hilliard was 8 years old, her career goals included the use of an overhead projector and chalkboard. Now, as marketing manager for DailyLit in New York, a company that sends literature to subscribers via email installments, Hilliard uses more sophisticated technology. She writes web content, sends out press releases and conducts webinars in hopes of making books accessible to a wired generation of readers. “I really love my job,” Hilliard said. “I’ve learned a lot about the online world in general.”
She’s also learned a lot about life in Manhattan, quite a contrast to the smaller, more quiet town of Waconia where she grew up. The University of Wisconsin-Madison served as a transition, where Hilliard graduated with honors … and a whopping 4.0 GPA. Hilliard called the pressure to maintain perfection stressful, but loved her professors and said her rigorous academic experience was worth it.
Now age 25, Hilliard understands that “people matter a lot” and focuses on maintaining ties with family and friends. She’s also proud of the social network she built from the ground up once she moved from suburban New York to the heart of the city about two years ago. Once an avid basketball player, Hilliard is content to watch from the sidelines, preferably college ball, and is a fan of the city’s many music venues.
“It’s easy to get stuck just participating in life,” Hilliard said, although she wants more. A regular reader of feminist blogs, Hilliard belongs to an active online community concerned with full equality. “I feel lucky to be this age, even though there are a ton of things going wrong with the world,” she said. “I’m optimistic about opportunities for people my age to solve the problems we have now.”
Once upon a time, Stephonjia Sudduth’s biggest concern was extending her telephone curfew. She has a bit more on her plate these days-recovering from Hurricane Katrina, finding a permanent job and getting into med school.
Sudduth had just started her junior year at Xavier University in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina forced the campus to close for a semester. After a semester at the University of Minnesota and another at Fisk University in Tennessee, Sudduth returned to Xavier a year later and graduated in 2008.
It seems as if upheaval has followed Sudduth to Atlanta, where she lives in her own apartment with her parents and brother nearby. She has obtained three different temporary jobs since moving there in 2008, and is in her sixth month as a regulatory coordinator at Zep Inc., a chemical company. Sudduth works on compliance standards. She’d prefer a job that combined both lab and office work so that she could interact more with people, but said realistically, “I can’t complain because I have a job. I’m just riding this wave.”
Sudduth still aspires to be the surgeon her 8-year-old self dreamed of. Although she will retake the MCATs this summer and apply to U.S. schools, Sudduth is also considering attending a six-year program in Cuba that includes a two-year stint working in local hospitals. Oh, and all the courses are taught in Spanish.
Sudduth admits she has a tough road ahead of her. “I want to be successful,” she said. “I feel like I’ve been kind of stagnant. I don’t want to look back five years from now and still be here. I want to progress.”
Moving forward is challenging, Sudduth continued. “I’m trying to go with the flow of life, but it’s just kind of scary to grow up.” A hurricane is scary too, though, and Sudduth didn’t let that stop her.
Although Suzanne Flory goes by Suzi these days, not much else about this determined, adventurous girl turned 25-year-old woman has changed. Back in high school, Flory’s interests included competitive sports, the flute and 15-day canoe trips to the Boundary Waters. These days she and her mother are rock climbing (Mom’s 50th birthday) and skydiving (Mom’s 60th birthday) instead.
Family is of core importance to Flory. Not only is she currently living with her parents in St. Paul to save money, she also experienced (albeit long distance) her dad’s serious illness while she was studying abroad in Germany in 2005. He has since recovered from a severe heart attack, and the experience helped Flory see first hand the value in family and friends, she said.
When she isn’t skydiving with her mom, Flory is helping to hire, train, assess and coach youth workers as community programs coordinator for Campfire USA. A sociology and German studies graduate of Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Ore., Flory didn’t set out to become a professional youth worker. What she did do was follow a passion and interest of hers and is now discerning how to take her job to the next level. “I think it’s important to be creative and open and exploratory,” Flory said. “I’m in a stage where I’m curious about what’s to come. I feel like I’m on the brink of something really good happening.”
Flory is also focused on her place as a woman in this world. For her, feminism is not necessarily a conscious choice. Instead, it’s simply a way of being. “This is what we do. We go out there, take care of each other and support each other,” Flory said. “If I run into something that slows me down, that just gives me the strength to power through it.”